The Black Power Movement is an important part of American and African-American history. It refers to a period during the 1960s when African-Americans, or blacks, changed their views about the manner by which they should achieve economic power, political power, and civil rights. During that time, white Americans and the media often exaggerated the association between the slogan “black power” and violence.
The movement evolved during a time when blacks were said to be free and equal, although the realities of life readily proved otherwise. White Americans were generally resistant to releasing the reigns on economic and political power. The continuing fight for civil rights showed that blacks were obviously not being treated as equals.
Prior to the Black Power Movement, there were two contrasting approaches that blacks took with regards to their aims to equality. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an influential man and the leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). His approach was one of unconditional non-violence. Malcolm X, on the other hand, was an influential figure in the Nation of Islam, a black Muslim group that condoned self-defense.
The slogan “black power” is generally believed to have gained widespread popularity in 1966 during the March Against Fear, also known as the Meredith Mississippi Freedom March. The concept, however, was in the works long before this event. Whites acted as though the slogan frightened them, and together with the media, the term was readily linked to violence and racism among people in white communities.
During this period, there was an obvious shift in attitudes. Activist groups such as the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) had previously worked with white supporters and sympathizers. Frustrated by ongoing injustice and unfairness, these groups and many others changed their attitudes to reflect a move toward separatism.
Groups and individuals who once subscribed the approach of non-violence began to readily adopt attitudes of self-defense upon attack. Black power, as a slogan, however, never truly had a violent meaning among most African-Americans. For them, it was more of a call to take pride in themselves.
The popularity of the Black Panther Party (BPP) did not do much to prove this, however. This group dressed in macho attire, including berets and leather jackets. They also carried loaded guns in public to represent their willingness to defend themselves and to encourage blacks to become aware of their rights.
These shifts of attitude and a surge of black activism were concentrated during the mid to late 1960s and are now labeled as the Black Power Movement. It is important to note, however, that during that time, there was not a cohesive effort with this title. In those days, there were numerous groups and activists, a frustrated black population, and a common desire for change.